January 14th, 2011

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 1

  1. Portis, Charles — True Grit (215 pages)

Page count: 215.

The movie industry drives me absolutely nutters! I simply do not understand what is to be gained by delaying a release in different countries by months. (Maybe it has to do with the cost of movie reels — do they even use those anymore??? — but then that doesn't explain regions on DVDs. And don't even get me started on DVD regions, which prevent me from playing DVDs I have bought and paid for simply because I have bought them in different countries, thus forcing me into the world of bit torrents. I wish I could hire Rooster Cogburn to go after the film execs who come up with these ridiculous and antiquated rules!)

So, yeah, True Grit… I kept seeing ads, leading up to and during my recent holiday, for True Grit, and I happily would have stolen a couple of hours to watch it in San Diego or Boston. But of course I wasn't about to watch the movie before reading the book. I had left the book back in London, because any reading I did while on holiday was to be spent finishing up books I'd started in 2010.

Figuring (wrongly) that True Grit had already opened here in London, that was the first book I plucked off my bookshelves when I got home. And I finished it within a couple of days. And then I watched the John Wayne flick. And then I checked the movie listings and couldn't find True Grit anywhere. Then I saw something about it premiering in the UK on January 14. And just now I've discovered that it won't actually open here until sometime in February. Bloody hell! I don't want to wait that long and am half tempted to download a bootleg copy. I won't, of course. I want to see this in the cinema. I'm just pissed off that I have to wait.

You're probably wondering when I'm going to say something about the book itself. Well, hell, this ain't a book report! ;) But I suppose I must say something, though I'm not sure I have anything worthwhile to say.

I really enjoyed the book. It's written from the perspective of Mattie Ross, the girl who seeks Marshall Rooster Cogburn's aid in avenging her father, several years after the fact. Portis succeeds in capturing Mattie's spunk, matter-of-factness, and naiveté. She's a firebrand, the one with true grit, although her speech and actions are tainted with oddities that mark her out of place in such rough company. Both her character and Rooster's are vividly brought to life.

I mostly enjoyed the John Wayne movie, but more as a quaint artefact of mid-twentieth-century filmmaking mores. Although the film is more-or-less faithful to the book's plot, everything is sanitized: scrubland no scrubbier than a front lawn, weather all perfect (where's the rain and snow?!) — clearly the grit of the title didn't refer to the environs! Speaking of grit, the filmmakers take most of the edge off Mattie. It did annoy me to see her so docile. Mattie Ross should make you feel that at any moment she'll deliver a swift kick to the crotch if you don't tow the line; the film made her seem merely petulant. Clearly in the film, we're supposed to think Rooster Cogburn/John Wayne is the one to whom the title refers. Hogwash! But I suppose Hollywood couldn't abide a strong female character back then, sadly. And why did filmmakers feel the need to romanticize the ending? You're not supposed to have warm fuzzies at the end of this story!

I am most curious to see how the Coen brothers treat this. Based on previous adaptations, I am hopeful. But thanks to our lovely film industry, I will have to wait another month to find out.

Relax!  Grab a Book!

Book 2

  1. Portis, Charles — True Grit (215 pages)
  2. Simpson, Joe — Touching the Void (210 pages)

Page count: 425.

As one online review puts it, the documentary is good, but the book is better.

Touching the Void is one of those books that has been staring up from my stacks of books, calling me to read it, for months. I'd seen the movie when it came out years ago and enjoyed it. I kept seeing the book on lists of recommendations, including 100 Must-Read Books for Men, and it seemed like a good cold-weather read.

I watched the film again shortly after finishing the book, and it is a well-made film. In particular, I appreciated how the camera work and soundtrack were able to convey instantly some of the things that were happening to Simpson and Yates psychologically that required many words to convey in print.

That said, the book is far more impactful in conveying this harrowing story. Certainly, nothing can ever really make us understand the full impact of what Simpson and Yates went through short of being there ourselves. The book gets closer in this regard, though, because of the stretched out timeframe required while reading and because of the greater amount of detail that a book can accomodate, as well as the various insights into mountaineering culture and other accidents that a film of any reasonable length cannot accomodate. (The film, by the way, does make clear that it is a documentary based on the book and not an adaptation of the book, an important distinction.)

Touching the Void is a fantastic, gripping read. Simpson is unflinching in his account of his near-death experience in the Andes, told in a straightforward style with much detail and stark candor. Even though we know the outcome (seeing as how this isn't written by a medium in a séance), Touching the Void is a page-turner which left me emotionally wrung out by the end.